Monday, January 28, 2008

When Worlds Collide

The faint breeze is warm, and slightly moist against my face as I walk the narrow winding path. The tall grass to either side of me deadens the faint crunch of the gravel and dirt underneath my feet, making the world seem no bigger than what I can reach out and touch with my hands...

The air is cold and biting against my face as I trudge down the sidewalk, feet crunching in the fresh, crisp snow. To one side, traffic steadily crawls by, throwing up sounds that meld into one constant drone in my ears. To the other side, tall, cold brick forms an impassable barrier, blocking in both sight and thought…

I am trying to find comparison, but am left with only contrast…

I lean back, stretching my arms above my head, my hands just touching the thatched roof of our isaka, our kitchen structure. Memory, my neighbour and friend, sits across from me and smiles as she stirs the chabwabwa (boiled pumpkin leaves). She is laughing at my tiredness, because she knows that I was at the office today, not really “working” in her mind. She, on the other hand, spent most of the day preparing her field for planting, which will happen any day now, as soon as the rains are “right”, as she puts it. After her work in the field she still had to gather water, and pick the chabwabwa that we will eat shortly….

My heart rises a little with excitement as the wheels thud down onto the runway and the plane taxis to the gate. Around me a faint buzz turns into almost a roar as the other passengers jostle and push to collect their belongings and make it first to the door. I join the melee, anxious to get moving, anxious to see my family, anxious to put an end to the long journey that has brought me here. I am thankful for some time to rest, for some vacation, to just relax. As I reach into the overhead bin for my bag the woman across aisle steps back and bumps into me. She murmurs an apology over her shoulder as she squeezes by another passenger on her way to the door, pushing him a little into the seats as well. Memory’s face flashes in my mind. Her quiet, shy manner. Her calm, kind gaze. My throat seizes and my heart sinks. Memory doesn’t get vacation, she rarely gets time to rest, but she never pushes and jostles on her way to her fields, the fields which feed her. Her patience in surviving shames me as I consider my rush to relax….

How can I compare these two realities that I have? These two worlds which I know? I take my memories of each, and line them up next to each other, but have trouble making matches.
Both realities seem so real, the memories of each so vibrant and life like. I was there, I experienced them both…didn’t I? Surely one must be imagined, some strange dream. These two worlds can’t exist together, at the same time…can they? It doesn’t seem possible, such stark opposites existing at the same time, with only an expanse of water, and endless opportunity separating them.

My return to Canada brought these two realities to a crashing co-existence. I’ve always known these contrasts in the back of my head, but somehow managed to gloss them over. Yet when you’re wandering the chaos of the ragged market stalls in Lusaka one minute, and 24 hours later you’re wandering the chaos of the starkly clean and digital Amsterdam Schipol Airport, it’s hard to find enough gloss to cover such a contrast.

However, even with these jarring differences, seemingly too much to handle as I paid more for lunch in Amsterdam that I do for my monthly rent in Milenge, by the time I reach my house in Windsor I have regained some semblance of stability in my thoughts. As I walk slowly up my Canadian driveway to my house, while my entire family waits inside, thinking I’m still thousands of kilometres away in Zambia, I am at peace. To be sure, I am anxious, excited, and nervous about the surprise that is mere moments away, but as I pause, shivering in the cold Canadian wind that I’m in no way used to, with my hand on the icy doorknob, I think of Memory again, and I smile. I smile because I know that Memory doesn’t resent me for resting, for seeing my family, for laughing. Rather, she laughs with me, a world away. And when I return to Zambia, after showing my pictures, giving small gifts, sharing funny stories, Memory will still give that small, shy smile, the one where I know she’s laughing at me for something I’ve said, or something I’ve done. Though it may seem only a smile to you, for me it is hope. That smile says so much to me. It tells me that Memory won’t give up because her days are filled with hard work. It tells me that although Memory is happy to have met me, she is still happy to be herself. It tells me that I have a thing or two to learn from Memory.

I think I’ve found my comparison…

It is the morning I leave Milenge to spend a few weeks in town then head back to Canada for Christmas. I’ll be coming back to Milenge in a few months, but only to visit, not to live. I’ll be living in Mansa now, in town. I am leaving early, at 6:00am. My neighbours and friends all get up to see me off, and I say my goodbyes to everyone, except for one. Memory. She is nowhere to be found. I saw her walk by my house early this morning, at about 5:00am. I figured she’d be back. She wouldn’t let me leave without saying goodbye….would she? Finally I can delay no longer, we have to go. I climb in the truck, and we start off. The sky is dull and gray, rain imminent but Milenge has never looked more beautiful. Everything is green and vibrant, the fields are black, and prepared for planting, the smell or rain and rich, fresh earth in the air, but I hardly notice. I am beside myself with frustration, almost at a panic. How can I leave without saying goodbye to Memory? About 5 kilometres down the road I see a figure in a red and black sweater, head down walking slowly. I tell my friend who is driving to stop. It is Memory. I get out and she turns to look at me. There is that smile. “Sorry Ba Mapalo”, she says. Her eyes are glistening. She is afraid of saying goodbye, afraid of saying the wrong thing, so instead she is on her way to her field. Another minute and she would have turned off the road and I would have missed her. One tear escapes her eye, and rolls down her cheek. I hug her, smile, and say nothing except “Tukomwanana pa February”, a mangled attempt at “We will meet in February”. The smile is back, bigger than ever. It doesn’t fade as she turns and continues on toward her field….

I grip the icy doorknob, turn, and as quietly as I can, push open the door. I hear voices, laughter, and excitement from the back of my house. It is my family. My brother Chris has just arrived with his wife, Kathy, and their 8 month old baby, Natalie. The have effectively made sure that everyone, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone is in the back of the house, away from the door. Little does my family know that Chris and Kath have just driven back from Toronto, from picking me up at the airport, and have dropped me off a few houses down the street. While the commotion continues in the other room, I hastily, but reluctantly shed my two jackets, thinking of the Zambian heat while I do so. I kick off my shoes and walk quietly, slowly, through the dinning room, into the back of the dark kitchen. My family is all there, in the family room, playing with Natalie, oblivious that I am standing only ten feet away in the shadows. I savour the moment for a few seconds, then slowly walk forward into the light. It takes a moment or two, and I’m not sure who reacts first, but I am aware of both my Aunt's and my Dad’s jaws dropping simultaneously. It takes my mom a few more seconds before she turns around and realizes what is happening. Tears start flowing immediately and the next few minutes are a blur of hugging, laughing, and some crying. A little while later I am sitting on the couch, surrounded by my family, holding my niece who I’d only met hours earlier at the airport. I look at the massive smiles on the faces of my family, and know that they are a mirror of my own, a smile that doesn’t fade as the conversation continues into the night….

I’ve found my comparison. It is in the deep meaningful relationships that are not restricted by borders, cultures, or income classes. My comparison is love.


Anonymous said...

Trev: Once again, your thoughts and words have moved me. You have such a gift for sharing your experiences. It was such a gift to have you home for Christmas - this was truly a Christmas we will never forget.

I can't wait to read more about all your experiences in Zambia. Keep writing, keep sharing - you bring Zambia to us with each post.

Love, Kath

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...


As usual, great post. Also as usual, Kathy can say what I would try to say only much better.

You really do have a gift. Your posts are so much more than the simple words.

It was great to have you home for Christmas. It was great that Uncle Trevor was home for Natalie's first Christmas.

Take care of yourself. We'll talk soon.
Love you lots brother.

Sue Titcombe said...

Wow, Trevor. Another amazing post.

It was wonderful to see you while you were "home". Now that you're safely back in Zambia I can get to work on deprogramming Darcy from all the stuff you taught her.

We will continue to pray for your safety and good health while you are in Zambia. I'm looking forward to many more posts like this one. Hopefully we can all learn from the amazing experiences you're having.

Anonymous said...

As usual I very much enjoyed your posting. Your mom had shared with me how you surprised them. It' wonderful that you all had time together & you got to meet your darling niece. I really enjoyed seeing the pictures of your two families. Keep safe. I will keep you in my prayer & look forward to your next posting.

Dana S.

Chad Hamre said...

Trevor. I'm sitting in my little dorm room in rainy london reading an econometric regression model social networks. Since I've been in London i've felt a paralyzed. Lacking direction. Lacking confidence. Lacking fire. I've been slowly building back up. Little by little, day by day, event by event, but i think your few hundred words just gave me the biggest jump i've had in a while. thanks for sharing.

L said...


Outstanding!!! I am very happy to be here in Bancroft now, but not very happy about missing your visit back home. I would so have attended your presentations... and maybe heckle you a bit, but I'd have been there, that's the point!

I was a bit late in picking up on this post, but I'm on the watch for them again. I trust you will find the time to share in your future endeavors... I'm not at all surprised to have heard you would be continuing in Zambia. In fact, I remember being very excited for you when Chris had first told me.

I will pray for you, as I have all along. Take care.


Genevieve MacIntyre said...


That was beautiful. I'm almost crying (and I'm in class so I'm a little embarrassed, ha).

Thank you for that awesome story.

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